Almost a quarter of the nation’s children younger than age five are at risk of not being counted in the 2020 census, which could have serious implications for their well-being, according to a recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The problem has grown worse over the last four decades according to experts. In 2010, the census failed to count nearly one million children younger than age five and this trend could continue in 2020.
What’s at stake? If not included in the count, these ‘invisible’ children’s needs will also be overlooked. Ironically, the children who need the support the most — those from low-income or immigrant families, or children of color – are the ones with the most to lose.
Funds set aside by the US government for aid to states for 300 federal programs, or more than $800 billion annually, is based on the census headcount. If young children are being undercounted, that could lead to overcrowded classrooms, fewer Head Start programs, understaffed hospital emergency rooms, and more kids without health care.
Population statistics also determine congressional representation. Without an accurate count, people with the greatest needs may have less of a voice advocating for their needs.
How can so many children be potentially overlooked? The reasons are many:
Transience — Children living with parents who frequently move or are homeless are less likely to be counted, because it is more difficult for those households to respond to the survey.
Confusion — Guardians who care for young children who aren’t immediately their own — grandparents or distant relatives, for example — were unsure how to respond to the census questions. (The wording on the 2020 census questionnaire has since been changed to help clear up confusion for caregivers.)
Access — The 2020 census will largely be conducted online. For low-income households or people who don’t have regular access to the internet, responding to the survey will be more difficult.
Lack of Information – Some families simply do not understand that nonparticipation could mean reduced or eliminated services for their children. (A communications campaign will help spread the word that counting every child is essential.)
Language — For recent immigrants or families living in neighborhoods where English isn’t the primary language, studies show that people were more likely to be confused as to whether to include a child or not.
Citizenship — There are nearly 17 million people in the U.S. who live in households with at least one person who is in the country illegally, This may heighten fears those who lack legal status will be personally identified.
The 2020 census is not too far off. If you are hearing questions or concerns from you clients about how to participate in the census or worries that it may negatively impact them, you can refer to these FAQs from the US Census Bureau.